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Utah lawmakers debate two medical marijuana bills

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Posted at 12:54 PM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 23:26:39-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A pair of medical marijuana bills were debated in the state Senate on Friday, with emotional arguments in favor of cannabis in Utah.

The Senate is considering competing bills on medical marijuana -- Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, which allows for a marijuana extract; and Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, which would allow for more marijuana use to treat ailments.

Sen. Vickers acknowledged his bill dealt with medical marijuana in "increments," but said it was a more prudent approach.

"We need to be careful how we do this, otherwise we'll only duplicate the pitfalls other states have experienced," he said.

Vickers' bill passed 26-3. Madsen's faced the bigger debate.

"I know some very powerful, political special interests have been working against this bill," Sen. Madsen said on the Senate floor. "I also know that the people of this state understand this issue. Maybe better than some of us here. I also know they're inclined to take this into their own hands if we don't do it right."

On Friday, Madsen announced a flurry of amendments to his bill to appease his opponents -- including the LDS Church. Among them, he gutted part of his bill by removing the "whole plant" aspect, allowing full marijuana flower to be used. Instead, only oils, extracts and edibles would be allowed. It still gives more of an effect than SB89, but could cost patients more, he said.

"I don't want to let this go," an emotional Madsen said. "This is an important part of the bill for a lot of people."

But that helped the bill's chances on Utah's Capitol Hill. Lawmakers who previously opposed his medical marijuana legislation came around. Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, said he supported it. The amendments were why Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, announced he would vote for it.

"If we don't do something meaningful this session, then it will go to initiative. The states that have passed recreational by Colorado, it was done by initiative," Weiler said.

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, became emotional describing her late-husband's battle with lung cancer and how he was offered marijuana to treat the pain. He could not take it, she said, because he was a public servant.

"We need this. If we don't go there, shame on us!" Mayne said.

Patients who have admitted to using medical marijuana to treat chronic and terminal illnesses were in the Senate gallery watching the debate. Some became emotional as the debate was delayed until Monday.

"It's hard for patients to keep coming back up here and doing this, but it's good to get it done in the right way," said Amanda Ellis-Graham.

Christine Stenquist, who is helping with a ballot initiative should SB73 fail, told FOX 13 she believed the Senate may pass the bill.

"We may have the votes to pass second reading. That's optimistic. I do think they're concerned about a ballot initiative. I think they fear the people's will," she said.

Asked if it would halt the ballot initiative, Stenquist responded: "I don't know yet. I need to see what happens on Monday."